Fascism and the Jews
Mussolini and the Jews
Cultural Myths of the Jews
Mussolini and the Jews
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) was the founder of Fascism in Italy. Originally a part of the Socialist Party, Mussolini was the editor of the Avanti newspaper as well as a journalist. He changed hands and went to the right; in his own definition of Fascism, published in 1932, he declared that it was the opposite of Marxist Socialism.1
Below: Benito Mussolini. Source: Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
While Italy had a liberal government, it failed to prevent anarchy, so, in 1922, the king of Italy invited Mussolini to form a government and was appointed prime minister.2 Mussolini fashioned the name "Il Duce" to be a sign of his leadership, and he started a program of militarization.3 By way of censorship and altering election methods, Mussolini made a dictatorship out of his post.4 Mussolini dictated the whole of the party line, which is why it is important to understand his thoughts and actions toward the Jews apart from the governmental action he took.
Often people will analyze the actions of Mussolini towards the Jews and have a hard time deciding whether he was for or against the Jews. This is due to the fact that, while he originally had political reasons to work with the Jews, he had social and cultural anti-Semitic tendancies.5 Originally being a part of the Italian Socialist Party, which boasted a great number of Jews, it is obvious that Mussolini had worked with many political Jewish leaders before he became a Fascist.6 He was also highly aware of the fact that many of the Italian Jews fought valiantly in World War I, and they formed a highly regarded community.7
On the other hand, there were a few Jews who Mussolini greatly approved of. Rathenau worked in the Weimar Republic in Germany, and Mussolini highly admired him, even praised him.8 However, because he was a Jew, he was assassinated. Mussolini hated the fact that he was killed despite being a good politician. Furthermore, he disliked pan-German militarism.9
The early rivalry between Italy and Germany during the rise of the dictators made it possible for Jewish people to immigrate to Italy. Mussolini, in attempts to make himself more refined and appealing, worked to help the Jews.10 He also believed that there was an "international Jewry", and he wanted to keep them on his side. In addition the idea of Jewish high finance was another incentive to work for the Jews.11
Not forgetting that some of his original supporters were Jews,12 Mussolini, during his early years, did not make anti-Semitic laws as a part of the Fascist party. When the Nazis came to power and began to abuse the Jews, Mussolini became one of the most outspoken people against the policies.13 Again, the German-Italian rivalry fueled the flames of his rebukes.
Mussolini went so far as to say that Italian Fascism was completely devoid of anti-Semitic tendencies.14 He also stated that Italian Fascism would never had any intention of following any anti-Semitic policies such as the foreign policies seen in Germany.15 This he used as a source of Italian pride. Mussolini said, ...."We too have our Jews. There are many in the Fascist Party, and they are good Fascists and good Italians...A country with a sound system of government has no Jewish problem."16
In a more revealing quote, however, Mussolini reveals one of the major ideas in Italy about Jews. In an article published October 19, 1920, he wrote, "Italy knows no anti-Semitism and we believe that it will never know it. Let us hope that Italian Jews will continue to be sensible enough so as not to give rise to anti-Semitism in the only country where it has never existed."17 This points to many of the cultural myths about Jews in Italy.
However, at the same time, Mussolini practiced anti-Semitism in his party unofficially. He saw to it that Jewish Italians did not rise to power in the Party, government, nor military.18 Even before 1938, when he officially endorsed anti-Semitic laws, Mussolini showed that he was not fully supportive of the Jews.
Mussolini did not have set idea of the Italian Jewry. He himself admired several Jews for their abilities, yet he also insulted other Jews. He claimed that their was no "Jewish problem", yet he unofficially denied them the ability to rise to power within the government. The majority of his political moves for the Jews reveal that he had a political "alliance" to be made. On a social and personal level, his actions were influenced by the cultural idea that anti-Semitism was caused by Jewish behavior.
For more information on these footnotes, please see the sources.
© Kylie McCormick, Mount Holyoke College 2008.